What to drink in 2015: Rhône


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

In our latest chapter on the wines to uncork in 2015, Adam Holden – Rhône Specialist – examines vintages past from this fabled French region

Anyone lucky enough to have reds in the cellar from the outstanding 1985, 1989 and 1990 vintages should consider finding a good excuse to enjoy them this year; though wines from the great domaines still have more to give. Following a lacklustre start to the vintage, 1995 yielded reds with, in some cases, brutal structure; in their 20th anniversary year this has now ceded to the more supple charms of dried fruit, liquorice and cherry. The 1998 vintage is widely perceived to be the best Southern Rhône vintage since 1990, not to overlook the north by any means, or indeed the whites; the best of which possess all of the delicious richness one would hope for, but which retain their underlying stony streak. Whilst the best of the 1998 reds still have some years before retirement, the leaner style of 1999 makes for good drinking now; in many cases the wines have fine definition and reflect a more elegant expression of the region.

An excellent vintage for the south, in some cases even rivalling the great 1998s, 2000 delivered true ‘vins du garde’ which will still benefit from being left in peace for a few years to come. The north is a good deal more problematic, with hail in the spring and rain in August. Focussing on good producers who were prepared to sacrifice yield for quality is the key and these wines can be consumed with gay abandon 15 years on from harvest.

The 2001 vintage was remarkable; great concentration wrapped up with elegant, finely grained tannins, demonstrated both in the north and the south, the obvious candidates have performed well of course but there is great quality from the less eminent hills as well. Most of the Rhône villages will have been consumed by now but any remaining wines from ‘senior’ producers will offer plenty of gratification this year. Alas, triumph followed by a fall for most in 2002, good producers made good wines, mostly in the north, but it’s certainly time to drink up.

The Rhône valley did not escape the heat wave of 2003 and producers grappled with the peculiarities engendered by the fierce heat of the vintage. Those with deeply rooted old vines shaped profound wines in some cases, with muscular structure, the south was particularly successful. The wines can be enjoyed now, for their massive, concentrated but ripe fruit which has plenty of pleasure to give, but equally, there is no panic for the top wines. Whites, however, should be drunk sooner than later, gregarious as they are.

Whilst not celebrated as one of the greats there is charm to be found in 2004, and some useful early drinking wines; the reds demonstrate a fresh, crunchy quality and the whites are exotic whilst fresh and linear, most will nevertheless be ready for the duck liver pâté by now. The 2005, by contrast, is hailed as one of the greats; even the junior wines are well preserved by the authoritative, peppery tannins, these can be enjoyed this year but those wines which are typically long lived are even more durable.

The 2006 vintage represents the best of both worlds, there is a lattice quality to the wines, they are multidimensional, nuanced and in most cases drinking well owing to the fine, supple quality of the tannins. The 2007s are rich wines with massive fruit, though unencumbered by the ruthless tannins of 2005; they are not for the faint hearted at this early stage but the ripe fruit means there is fun to be had matching them with robust fayre.

Another challenging year, the wines of 2008 are certainly for early drinking; the best producers – those who waited for full ripeness – fashioned wines in the bright, crunchy style which characterises the lean years but which has an allure of its own; particularly whilst waiting for the blockbusters to come through. The 2009 vintage combines the opulence of 2007 with some of the structure of 2005, only the basic wines are for enjoying now and can offer indulgently ripe black fruits. The 2010s offer something to truly look forward to; both whites and reds have the breath-taking balance and poise of a genuinely great vintage.

Read the previous instalments in our series on ‘What to drink in 2015‘ and find out more about the Rhône on bbr.com.